Friday, October 1, 20044:01 AM: (Indianapolis time) The alarm goes off painfully early.
|5:27 AM: With Audrey and Brent in tow, we were off to Indianapolis International Airport.
|5:51 AM: A busy day should always begin with a hearty breakfast. With so many options at the airport food court, we selected McDonald's and the Blackwells enjoyed Au Bon Pain.
|6:16 AM: It's time to open our goodie bags. Since it was Audrey's 30th birthday, her goodie bag contained a few extra items. Here, Audrey shows off the laminated schedule flip charts we all had to track our progress. At this point, Gina joined us for the remainder of our trip.
|7:29 AM: (Jump back two hours to Las Vegas Time) During the flight, the neon straws and shotglasses in the goodie bags were put to questionable use.
|9:27 AM: We arrived safely at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and picked up our powder blue Crown Victoria, which we promptly dubbed "Queenie."
|9:49 AM: We drove to the Boardwalk Hotel and Casino to drop off our luggage, since it was too early to check in.
|10:14 AM: She may not be glamorous or new, but the Boardwalk has got to be one of the most conveniently located hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. With beautiful weather and plenty of time left in the day, we were ready to get started.
|10:20 AM: Our first order of business: lunch! Mr. Hot Dog was the unanimous choice, having spotted it on our way to the hotel earlier.
|10:32 AM: Our party of five nearly filled the dining area of Mr. Hot Dog. We enjoyed hot dogs, corn dogs, French Fries, and cold drinks, which fortified us well for the afternoon.
|11:16 AM: Next stop: The Mother Ship, also known as the Coca-Cola Experience. Like the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, the Vegas location offers a chance to try eight soft drink flavors from around the world. If there's one thing we love, it's a taste test. Bring it on! We sampled and ranked all eight flavors. We declared Kin Cider from Israel (ginger ale) to be the most delicious, with an average score of 7.0/10.0, and Beverly from Italy (bitters) to be the least delicious, with an average score of 0.0. Smart Apple from China (6.4), and pineapple-flavored Lilt from the UK (6.25) were runner ups.
|12:00 PM: Conveniently located right next door is M&M World, with some of the cutest products you can imagine. We just browsed, making notes of what we would come back to purchase later in our trip. We knew we'd be taking some of the tall M&M shot glasses home with us, for starters.
|12:21 PM: Our first true casino stop was the MGM Grand. Inside, we found the Rainforest Cafe, and made plans to have dinner there the next evening.
|12:41 PM: After a wee bit of gambling, we discovered the Lion Habitat, a large zoo-like setting featuring large, beautiful lions. The boys were out this time, napping on top of the clear tunnel in the middle, as people stood underneath them.
|12:51 PM: During our time here, several of us paid to hold an adorable four-week-old lion cub and have our picture taken with her. Awwwwwww!
|12:56 PM: Back outside, the giant MGM lion was equally regal.
|12:59 PM: Facing the other side of the street, our little friend Orchy came out of his backpack long enough to get his picture taken for the first time in Las Vegas.
|1:19 PM: Hey, there's no waiting for the Manhattan Express rollercoaster at New York New York!
|1:23 PM: Tom, Debbie, and Brent couldn't wait to get aboard for a quick ride around the casino.
|1:31 PM: After the ride was over, we found Gina and Audrey keeping the world safe from the bad guys.
|1:56 PM: We played arcade games at New York New York for a few more minutes, then we cashed in our game tickets for these stylish pinkie rings and were the envy of the Strip. Birthday Girl Audrey treated herself to additional bling in the form of a blue plastic ring.
|2:03 PM: Heading back north next, we passed the Mother Ship again. There is no more beautiful sight than a three-story Coca-Cola bottle.
|2:04 PM: Debbie photographed Gina photographing Debbie in front of New York New York.
|2:09 PM: Our last stop before checking into the Boardwalk was the Monte Carlo. We stopped for a photo outside, then toured the casino. By unanimous vote, we decided it was the most boring of the casinos we visited all weekend.
|3:42 PM: Checked in, freshened up, and rested, we jumped in Queenie and headed to the Treasure Island parking garage. We cut through Treasure Island and crossed the bridge to the Venetian.
|3:50 PM: The interior of the Venetian is just as lush as we had expected. This ceiling was worth craning our head back for a view.
|3:53 PM: At the Venetian, the Grand Canal is indoors, though the ceilings look very much like real sky.
|4:45 PM: We decided to dine at Cannaletto for Audrey's birthday. All of the food was delicious, but Debbie's seafood risotto looked like a plate of black goo. We now have a new restaurant rule: Never order anything with squid ink in the list of ingredients.
|4:47 PM: Audrey and Brent were glad to be eating normal food.
|5:26 PM: After visiting the real Venice three months earlier, we decided that this time we really had no excuse for not riding a gondola.
|5:30 PM: With a maximum of four passengers, the women went off in one gondola, and the men went off in another 10 minutes later.
|5:50 PM: After the women returned, we got a shot of the men enjoying their ride.
|5:52 PM: Our gondola rides concluded, we headed back through the Grand Canal area, passing the St. Mark's-esque square where we had dinner. To the left, a stage was set up for a fashion show.
|6:39 PM: At 6:00 PM, we went to Las Vegas Preview Studios, where we watched and evaluated a television pilot. We used hand-held devices to rate each moment of the show, then took a short survey afterward. For our efforts, the nice man running the survey gave each of us a crisp $2 bill and was nice enough to pose for a shot with us afterward.
|7:02 PM: It was now dark outside as we headed back to Treasure Island. Our plans were to attend the 7:00 "Sirens of Treasure Island" show in front of the hotel, but that particular show was cancelled due to a Lance Armstrong appearance shortly before. We were sad to miss the show, but it made it easier for us to get to our surprise for Audrey's birthday.
|7:22 PM: We jumped in Queenie and left the Strip to go to Rio.
|7:25 PM: The Rio is a very fun casino with a parade that goes through the casino floor hourly, followed by a musical performance featuring floats attached to the ceiling. We arrived just in time for the 7:30 performance.
|7:41 PM: Here is one of the ceiling floats: a riverboat with dancers on the top level and visitors on the bottom level.
|7:44 PM: The whole thing is called "Masquerade Show in the Sky," and we were surprising Audrey with a ride in the 8:30 show, the precise moment she turned 30. We were scheduled to ride in the gondola float, pictured here. Two gondola rides in one day!
|8:21 PM: At 8:00, we went backstage to learn the ground rules, don our costumes, put on several bead necklaces, get our photo taken (twice), and board our float. At 8:30 sharp, the show began and out we went, gliding in the air over the casino floor, while an attractive young man (barely pictured in the grainy gondola photo above) danced to the music next to us.
|9:47 PM: After that excitement, we cooled off with a trip to Baskin-Robbins in the Rio, then jumped back into our trusty rental car to head downtown. One of the famous "Welcome" signs beckoned us to the seedier area of Las Vegas.
|9:56 PM: Finally, after two previous trips to Las Vegas, we were on Fremont Street, ready to enjoy the Fremont Street Experience. It was hard to believe we were outdoors instead of in a huge five-block-long neon corridor.
|9:59 PM: Fremont Street is home to some of the old classic casinos. Unfortunately, after being up since 2:00 AM Vegas time, we didn't have the energy to visit them.
|10:03 PM: We were here for one reason only: to enjoy the famous Fremont Street Experience light show. Set to music, the constantly changing shapes and colors are amazing to behold.
|10:05 PM: It is hard to convey the enormity of it all, but try to picture this photo as covering at least two city blocks.
|10:07 PM: Amazing, just amazing. Mercifully, it only lasted about 10 minutes, just about the length of time it took for our necks to get tired of looking up.
|10:19 PM: We got one last shot as we headed back to the car: the venerable Golden Nugget.
10:58 PM: The view from our hotel room was spectacular, with Aladdin and Paris just a few blocks away.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy